I could have said no. I know this.
Ella was asleep in the backseat as I drove her resolutely to her grandmother.
I knew she was going to be gone all weekend.
I was preparing myself for her to be gone forever.
I hoped we might get one more night with her before the final transfer.
And then my phone rang.
He had a baby for me. For Christmas. Two babies, actually. My heart leapt in my chest.
There were a few minutes of discussion, mostly about the logistics. Where, when, how.... but never an "if".
I said yes. Anyone who knows me just went right ahead and added an "of course" to the end of that sentence.
I said yes, and then I said I had to check with Sam. Which I did, just to be clear. I did call Sam.
And then I called them back and said yes again. And then I went to work like it was just an ordinary day.
When I finished my shift I went to pick up the boys. We call them that, these days. "The Boys".
They were waiting for me in a windowless playroom, a paper shopping bag with their belongings sat precariously on top of the play kitchen. There were a few shirts for each boy, a few pairs of shorts for the older one. Some diapers. A small pack of wipes. 2 empty bottles. No shoes or socks. No food. No milk. While I had been shuttling plates full of food out of a hot kitchen, they had been sitting in a series of over-airconditioned rooms, hungry. They hadn't eaten in hours, either one of them. I rubbed at the guacamole smear on my apron guiltily.
The cherub with a head full of ringlets was toddling around the room, picking up each toy he encountered, putting it in his mouth, putting it back down, moving on. Across the room, a tiny wizened face looked up at me from the social worker's arms, mouth puckered, eyes confused and distant.
I went down to my car and retrieved a bottle of ready-made formula from the diaper bag. First things first. Feed the boys. I stood in the public bathroom in the hallway outside the office rinsing and rinsing and rinsing those two empty bottles from their paper shopping bag. Scrubbing them as though I could somehow erase the hours of hunger.
I drove home with two carseats jammed in the backseat of my compact car. I stopped for formula along the way. I had an hour until the Winter Break potluck at school. I was still in my uniform. The Boys were asleep in their carseats. I had a wedding to officiate at sunset.
I didn't think of Ella at all in those first frantic hours. And then, after everyone was bathed and asleep, she was all I could think about. I walked in and out of the nursery, the cherub sleeping in Ella's bed. I had taken out her stuffed pig when he lay down, and handed him a stuffed elephant instead. I couldn't bear to see him cuddling her Petunia Pig.
Now I stood in the doorway holding Petunia, staring at this new baby in her place. I turned, and watched the newborn squirm and then fart, immediately stretching and then settling into the corner of his bassinet with a contented sigh, his mouth slightly agape. I smiled without thinking. Sweet baby boy.
It is a blessing for all of us, I kept telling myself. Ella is with her family. The boys are safe with me. My arms will not ache with emptiness this weekend. There will be no empty crib and carseat to carefully pack away.
I could have said no. Of course I could have.
But I said yes. Of course I said yes.
7 hours ago